The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane: A Review From Andrew Cattanach

Hindsight is a wonderful thing when reviewing books. But access to the author’s thoughts, well that’s pure gold.

A few days ago we asked Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest, what she hoped people take away with them after reading her work.

I hope people are haunted by the story they’ve just read; that they’re left thinking about trust, dependence, aging, and the ways the past can colonise the present.

I have never read an author who so succinctly summarised my own feelings upon reading their work. For 300 pages I was an unknowing passenger, unaware every emotion stirring inside me was meticulously planned. When I finished the novel I was taken by her skill. Now I’m mesmerised by it.

The Night Guest is the story of Ruth, a recent widower living on the edges of a coastal town. She lives a comfortable yet ultimately unremarkable life, largely defined by her childhood in Fiji with her missionary parents and a lost love from those days.

Ruth’s years begin to catch up with her. Her days fall into one another and she is constantly distracted by thoughts of the past. After she calls her sons one night to tell them she hears a tiger, her sons feel she has become incapable of looking after herself. One day a woman, Frida, turns up at her door. Frida says she is a nurse sent by the government to look after Ruth and as Ruth begrudgingly accepts and the weeks pass, her reliance on Frida begins to grow as her own physical and mental state slowly begins to fall away. But as Frida’s role in Ruth’s life grows, we are left to wonder just what Frida’s true intentions are as Ruth’s mind is increasingly more in the past than the present.

The most brilliant thing about The Night Guest is that I slowly felt as though I had uncovered a hidden subtext, one even the author didn’t realise. I could see tiny cracks in the story, sure only I knew the damage these could ultimately do to the foundations.

But I was wrong. McFarlane knew. She put them there after all.

Haunting is the perfect word to describe it. I’ve spent more time thinking about the book than I did reading it. My own parents are in their seventies, and while a long way from the deterioration Ruth begins to experience, for them a clock ticks with every forgotten name, every misplaced key, and every tired word.

And that’s why I thought I had unlocked a world within the novel that nobody knew existed. That my emotions, my experiences had shaped the story a particular way.

But I was wrong. The Night Guest deals in something we are all slaves to, time.  And while McFarlane pulls the most stirring emotional strings with ease, she tells a poignant, unsettlingly beautiful story that still keeps me up at night.

There was another thing McFarlane said in the interview. She said: A lot of people have told me they call their mothers more often after reading my book.

I called my mother the minute I finished the book, and we talked for hours.

Click here to buy The Night Guest from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

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Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

REVIEW: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Review by Terry Purcell)

Click here to order The Signature of all Things.When I was handed The Signature of All Things I noted the name of the author and popped it on the pile of books marked, not urgent. Yep, I let my prejudice against the author of Eat, Pray, Love influence my decision even though it was obvious this new novel was a departure from the squillion copy selling EPL. Then, one night I overheard a couple of booksellers talking. One had taken the plunge and had read The Signature of All Things. This was a bookseller whose opinion deserved respect and she had loved it. Loved it.

The next day I picked up The Signature of All Things. It was immediately obvious to me that this was a work of historical fiction of the highest order but it was a big book and with so many other books on my pile already, I gave it to my dad. Here is his review:

Continue reading

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chaniani – Review by Isabel Blackmore (age 12)

Review by Isabel Blackmore (age 12): The school for good and evil. Sounds simple, right? It’s not. Its amazing adventures, twists and complications leave you in a daze once you’re finished. Sophie and Agatha are best friends, but there’s one problem – a witch and a princess can’t be friends. With action, adventure, and just a pinch of romance, what’s not to love?

Blurb: A dark and enchanting fantasy adventure perfect for girls who prefer their fairytales with a twist. Every four years, two girls are kidnapped from the village of Gavaldon. Legend has it these lost children are sent to the School for Good and Evil, the fabled institution where they become fairytale heroes or villains.

Sophie, the most beautiful girl in town, has always dreamed of her place at the School for Good while her friend Agatha, with her dark disposition seems destined for the School for Evil. But when the two are kidnapped they find their fortunes reversed…

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REVIEW: Blood Song by Anthony Ryan (Review by Booktopia’s Michael Marlow)

Londoner Anthony Ryan has the world talking, an exciting new voice in Fantasy Fiction. Booktopia’s Michael Marlow shares his thoughts on his latest book Blood Song
blood-songAuthor Anthony Ryan initially made a name for himself in the cutthroat marketplace of self-published online eBooks. He has now made his first foray into the printed world with the brutal and skilfully paced Blood Song. Showing a slightly different approach to his contemporaries, Ryan takes a step back from the traditional gods and monsters of fantasy to present a more secular but no less engaging creation.

As a fantasy epic Blood Song is an impressive piece of work. The reader is given the impression of a complex and constantly evolving world that exists outside of the individual stories portrayed. Despite this you are never over-saturated with names and places as can happen in some clumsier works. Ryan makes us privy to just the right amount of lore to ensure the character driven storyline never has to take a back seat.
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The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings – a guest review by bestselling author Rachael Johns

Bestselling author and voracious consumer of romance Rachael Johns gives an insider’s perspective on The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings by Natasha Walker

Before I start, I must admit, I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey or any of the supposed spin-offs and had absolutely no inclination to do so. I read 100 pages of Grey because I thought I should – it sold bucket loads and as an author it would have been good research to work out why – but I honestly couldn’t go any further. Erotic romance has just never been my thing.  So, I’d never had any inclination to pick up The Secret Lives of Emma series either. There were just too many other books on my TBR pile. I like a hot sex scene as much as the next person in a romance, but I’m more there for the romance than the sex. Continue reading

A Day with Abbi Glines

Hot footballers, coffee obsession and song-writing – all in a day’s work for bestselling author Abbi Glines

As you may have noticed from my recent review of Because of Low, I have just been introduced to the wonderful world of New Adult and, specifically, the work of Abbi Glines. Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasureabbi lunch table of meeting her, interviewing her (podcast to follow soon) and even dining with her. Below is a brief summation of what I learnt in our time together: Continue reading

Love in the Heart of Danger – a guest blog by Helene Young

Helene Young shares her love of Australia’s own brand of romantic suspense in a guest blog for Booktopia.

Helene Young

Do you love stories with gripping plots and action-packed suspense set in Australia? Do you prefer stories with strong women and optimistic endings, maybe even a love story?

Then you need to read Australian Romantic Suspense  – a ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ genre, with a compelling romance story side-by-side with a crime, suspense or intrigue plot. They are complex books in terms of subject matter, dealing with topical issues such as cyber-crime, people trafficking, drug smuggling and terrorism threats. The depth of emotion is strong, the relationships believable and the scenarios all too realistic. Continue reading

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